Interview: Robert Sallin Talks Navigating Paramount, Roddenberry, And Nimoy To Produce ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan’

The 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is still considered to be the best of the film franchise. This weekend fans will have an opportunity to watch a virtual screening of the film so TrekMovie thought it was a good opportunity to talk to producer Robert Sallin, who director Nicholas Meyer calls an unsung hero of The Wrath of Khan.

Interview with Robert Sallin

This was your first feature film as a producer, how did you get involved?

I had been a director all my life, particularly in the world of advertising where I had opened up my own production company. Over a couple of decades, I had directed around 2,000 commercials.

I had gone to UCLA film school with Harve Bennett, and he’d approached me a number of times over the years to direct episodic television and movies of the week, and I did the occasional show with him. By the early 80s, I had burned out on commercials and Harve approached me after he just got himself a deal at Paramount television and he had three projects, one of which was Star Trek.

Star Trek [The Motion Picture] had originally been in the feature division with  [director] Robert Wise and [producer] Gene Roddenberry. It had gone so vastly over budget, really budgeted around $24 million, and my understanding was it came in at something like $44 million or more, largely due to discord on the set, and a major part was due to them not knowing what they were doing with visual effects. So, I came on board to produce [Star Trek II]. I must confess this was new to me although I had run my own company, and in the commercial world, you really gain a sense of how to run things at a profit and contain costs.

How did things work practically between Harve and yourself?

He was busy working on his other two projects and working only peripherally on Star Trek. We started to get writers in and explore concepts. Harve was taking point on the story development with the writers, but I was there for every meeting and offered my notes. As time went on, I became very concerned. I thought the road they were going down was not good and felt it was not a sound idea, and kind of hokey. I voiced my concerns but Harve was titularly my boss, so I was a good executive officer and supportive in every way I could; but in my soul, I knew we were headed for trouble.

As time went on and stories were developed, I began to storyboard action sequences and characters, along with Mike Minor who I hired as art director along with Joe Jennings who were two terrific and talented guys. At the same time, I shouldered all the responsibility for actually mounting the production. The first thing I did was the old intelligence trick of interrogating the prisoners in separate cells. I interviewed every crew member I could find who had worked on Star Trek [The Motion Picture] and gained enormous insight into what worked and didn’t work, including the dynamics—philosophical and practical and creative.

Robert Sallin’s early storyboards for Star Trek II

What were some of your findings on how the first Star Trek movie didn’t work?

From what I was told, you had Gene and Bob Wise at loggerheads and the changes that were coming down were not just weekly or daily but hourly. The pages were arriving as they were shooting scenes. That is not the way to make a picture. Also, conceptually—and remember I was not a Star Trek guy—I felt the first one was too distant. It obviously appealed to the people inside Star Trek, but from my perspective, it was a remote picture. It was a sci-fi exercise. I didn’t care about the people. I did not care what happened to them. So I felt, and [director] Nick [Meyer] agreed, to make the focus about human beings. The story is not about sci-fi or some obscure person with mystical powers, it is about human beings and the drama about Kirk getting old and things like that.

So, returning to your early development, at what point did Nick Meyer get involved?

While I worked with Harve as he was focused on the story, I assembled a crew. In addition to the art directors, I hired [cinematographer] Gayne Rescher, I hired the editor Bill Dornisch, I set up the whole production. And of course, it was also my job to find a director. Unfortunately, there was an impending Directors Guild strike and I was assembling a list of directors that was a wish list, but they had to be guys by and large who came from the television world, because this production was under the aegis of the television division at Paramount, no longer the feature division. It was scaled to be a television movie but looked like a feature.

Was there ever any consideration by Paramount to make it a movie of the week for television, or was it always intended for theatrical distribution, but being made by the TV division to save money?

My understanding was the latter. Guys in television know how to do things cheaper and faster, and that is why I was brought in because I knew cost control.

Back to picking a director…

Because of the impending DGA strike, I drew up two lists. One was of people who worked in television who had done some really good work, and I also drew up a list of English directors, because I thought the English had done some really stunning work and I thought that would be an interesting take on this project.

One was a director named Hugh Hudson, who had directed a film called Chariots of Fire. I got the senior executives together to show them this movie which had just come out. I will never forget how the three of us sat down in the huge projection room at Paramount and ran the picture and the lights came up and they turned to me and said: “So?” And I thought I might be in the wrong business because I thought the film was dynamite and it went on to win the Academy Award [for Best Picture, with Hudson nominated for Best Director].

After the strike talk simmered down what I found was a lot of the directors on my list didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to do a sequel. They didn’t want to do Star Trek. They didn’t want to do science fiction. Or they weren’t available. There was an expression of interest from a young guy named Ron Howard. He came in to meet us and he was just terrific. I thought he was so bright, and he loves Star Trek. He left the room and I turned to Harve and said, “I really like this guy, he can really bring something fresh and new to this.” And Harve was like “No, don’t want him, he is a kid,” even though he had already directed some movies of the week, one of which I had seen and thought it was a stunning piece of work and way beyond what a so-called “kid” would have done. That is why I was so enthusiastic, but I got shot down.

Ron Howard was rejected as director of Star Trek II, and went on to direct the 1982 comedy Night Shift

Nick Meyer wasn’t on your original list?

No. After fumbling around and facing all these rejections, my assistant Deborah turned to me and said, “Have you ever thought about Nick Meyer?” I didn’t know him personally, but I did admire The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [1976 film written by Meyer based on his novel] and his first feature [Time After Time, which he directed]. He was not terribly experienced, but he had something. As I was a member of the Director’s Guild, I figured I could lend support if any problems arose—which they did, by the way.

After sending him the script and meeting with him it was obvious to me that he saw the failings of the script that I saw, and he got it. So, I told Harve I had found the guy, he is fantastic and really understands this. We met up again, this time with Harve, and after, Harve said to me, “This guy is going to be trouble.” I didn’t see it. All I saw was an incredibly bright guy who had an extraordinary take on this material and could breathe some life into what I considered its otherwise blue lips. Harve and I had a bit of a disagreement and went at it, but the long and the short of it is that I got my way, because I told the studio what I wanted to do.

We brought Nick on board, and he saw all the flaws in the script. To his credit, his uncredited and unpaid twelve-day rewrite of what I thought was a disastrous script is what we shot. And he literally saved the franchise and certainly saved the picture.

You have talked about the hurdles faced while making this film. Was there a point you realized you had a big success on your hands, or was that not until it was released?

Very astute question. To be candid, my recollection is that I was so immersed in the making of it and the challenges and dealing with the problems, some of which were ludicrous, I didn’t think about. I felt we were creating something good. But the level of success, I never anticipated.

Another hurdle you had was convincing Leonard Nimoy to appear.

When we finished the script, Leonard didn’t want to do it. Leonard was a fine actor and wanted to explore other things. And all of his professional life had been defined by Spock. There are worse things that can happen to an actor, but I’ll never forget what he said to me: “I don’t want to put the ears on again.” And it was [screenwriter] Jack Sowards who suggested, “What if we killed him off?” And I said, “Whoa, that is a great idea!” And we met with Leonard and he said, “Oh!” That gives him a chance to play in the ultimate dying scene and all that stuff, so he agreed.

Then the proverbial stuff hit the fan. It was leaked by Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, Susan Sackett. The furor it kicked up you cannot imagine. When that word got out there was such an uproar, I came home one day and on my answering machine a voice said, “You kill Spock, and we’ll kill you.” I had two little kids and a wife, so we had to have security at our house because of some nutcase. [laughs]

Then Leonard did a one-eighty. We gave him the ammunition; what we said was, “This is science fiction, and there are different kinds of death in science fiction.” I left it at that, and that when we evolved the idea that he was going to die, but we were going to leave the clue that maybe that wasn’t a permanent situation. And that is when it came time to do that ending sequence.

Director Nicholas Meyer on the Star Trek II set with Leonard Nimoy

Did you have much or any direct interaction with Gene Roddenberry?

Very little. I met him and chatted with him and we would send drafts of the script to him and keep him in the loop. We even did it for things like wardrobe. We did it out of courtesy. He sent voluminous memos to Harve, to me, to Nick, and he just wasn’t happy with anything that was going on. It wasn’t the kind of picture he would make. He didn’t like the uniforms; he thought they were too military. My rejoinder to him was, “You have to have a military organization to make things run efficiently.” I’m a dual veteran of the Marine Corps and the Air Force, so I know this stuff, but he didn’t buy it.

As a producer, you deal with a lot of constituencies. When making the film, which one did you think about the most? Was it the hardcore fans, the critics, the general moviegoing public, or the suits at Paramount?

The greatest pressure was some of the people at Paramount. But my focus was really on how good of a story can I tell. I came from a place having had a dramatic background before advertising, was the belief that if you have a great story, the people will come to it. That was always on my core. I kept focused on how I can help tell this story. Yes, there was always this enormous pressure from some of the studio people, not all. And to be candid, a lot of it was just the way studios do things.

I knew my craft, but what I didn’t know and what they didn’t train me for at UCLA, was the business. I’ll give you an example: I drew up a budget along with the studio-assigned production manager, Marvin Miller—a great guy. I had designed every one of the visual effects, the battle in space, and all that stuff with Mike Minor. We got this budget done and I submitted it to the powers that be, and I come from advertising where you give the budget to the client and that is the budget unless they change something. So, I am very careful with that and I never lost a dime.

I budgeted it at $13 million and I send it up to them and the guy throws it back across the desk and says, “We aren’t going to do this unless you can take a million dollars off of it.” I said, “Guys, this is really what it is going to cost.” And they said, “No, no, you have to take a million dollars out or we are not going to do the picture.” I said, “Fine, don’t do it, pay me off and I will leave.” They said no and sent me off to find a million to take out. I was furious and went back to Marvin Miller and he laughed and said, “They do this all the time, that is just what they do.” He told me to just tell them it is $12 million. I said, “But that is a lie,” and he said, “Yeah, but that is just what they do.” So, when people asked me what I learned when I did Star Trek, I learned how to lie. I went in and lied, and what did the picture cost? $13 million.

Robert Sallin’s storyboard for the final scene in Star Trek II

The budget was obviously a constraining factor in making this film, but you still took a lot of time and effort to make some changes in the production design, and of course, totally changed those costumes. Why was that so important when facing the budget limits?

Well, there are two parts to that. You have to first ask yourself; do I want to use this? If I want to use it, do I want to use it the way it was or change it? If I want to change it, do I have enough money in the budget to change it? That was my process, so if it was a change we could afford, we did it. If there was a change we couldn’t afford, I sucked it up.

The reason I pushed so hard on the costumes was I thought the wardrobe on [Star Trek: The Motion Picture] was horrible. I thought they looked like Dr. Dentons [old-fashioned pajamas]. And I went to [costume designer] Bob Fletcher and said, “What can I save?” And he said we could maybe save the pants. And I wanted to do a dye test to see a range of colors, so we can see what would feel the richest. He did some tests and we came up with that [maroon] color. Then it came to the overall design and Nick wanted something like Prisoner of Zenda with its 1800s Austro-Hungarian look with those high fixed collars. I thought that was kind of corny, so I suggested taking the collars off the jacket and use turtlenecks underneath, with different colors for different departments. And Bob Fletcher had this machine which made that quilted look and that’s what we did.

In terms of other things, I found ways we could reuse things. Like the [Regula I] space station was originally from the first picture, but what I did is turn it upside down. I thought nobody is going to know and most people didn’t catch it. So that is one thing we didn’t have to build.

We did a detailed inventory of all of those models and figured out what bits we could use and talked to ILM who wanted to re-rig some of the models and I figured we could afford to do that. And then I used a lot of footage from the previous picture, like for the docking and that sort of stuff, but integrated into a new environment and new story and nobody said anything about it. Either it didn’t bother them, or they didn’t get it.

Another new thing you did was to use video instead of film for bridge monitors and some CGI, which was pretty new at the time. Were these creative choices, or more cost savings?

Those are two separate things.

When I saw the bridge for the first time, I didn’t understand why it was built as one piece, as it makes things hard to shoot. It turns out it was not actually one piece but built into pie segments. I was told Bob Wise wanted the actors to feel they were in that confined space, to contribute to their performance. And I said, “That’s terrific, but Bob Wise isn’t doing this picture; take it all apart.” So every pie-wedge section became mobile again, they were all on wheels, and you could light it right without burning up the actors, and you had freedom of movement.

In terms of the monitors, they were on projectors and I said, “What!?” The noise was one problem, and the other problem was syncing when you were trying to do coverage. So, you shoot one angle and the monitors are doing one thing and you do another angle change and those things are still in the background, we had a terrible time syncing all that up. I said, “They are all going away, we are doing this with monitors and video, and we are going to have time codes and it will all line up perfectly.” That was something I dumped onto my associate producer Bill Phillips and it worked very well, and they have been doing it ever since.

As for that one scene [the Genesis Device animation], I really wanted to do that on a computer. And the ILM guys said they had never done that before. But I knew the technology existed. I knew computers were capable of more than the way they were being used at that point. So I laid down the law there because I wanted something different. And when I told them that, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. They swallowed hard and said “Okay.” That 60-second shot cost about $250,000 out of the budget, but even though I didn’t originally have it budgeted, we made up the difference elsewhere. They ended up subcontracting that out and they would do the inputs during the day and at night they would link like 200 personal computers together to render it because they didn’t have the computing power in those days. So that was the genesis, pardon the pun, of that sequence, and I was very pleased with it.

It was Robert Sallin’s idea to use early CGI for Star Trek II

If you had a bigger budget like they had for the first one, would you have done things differently?

Not from my perspective. I got what I wanted and didn’t mind squeezing to do it. Sure, we could have bought a few more lunches.

One thing we would have done would go outside for locations, but we never left the lot, except for that end sequence, which I directed, on the Genesis Planet with Spock’s coffin. So no, it was just an exercise in cinematic discipline.

In an interview I did with Nick a few years ago we talked about you as an “unsung hero” of the film. I was surprised to hear how hands-on you would get when it came to framing specific shots, like how Kirk enters the bridge. This kind of thing didn’t ever create the feeling you were backseat driving?  

No, no, no. I put my directing hat in a basket. But I was on the set every day that I wasn’t up at ILM. What I was there for was to provide help when needed. I did not tell Nick how to shoot.

Okay, well I did with a couple of things, like Kirk’s entrance. What I said to Nick as a suggestion—not a mandate—when Kirk enters that bridge it has to be the second coming. So, when those doors open with all the smoke from the exercise, what you want to do is have him stand for a moment and take a brute, that is a huge light, and place it directly behind him. So when he comes in and raises his hands, there are going to be fingers of light and shadow.

Sallin suggested this iconic shot for Kirk’s entrance in Star Trek II

You have talked a bit about some of the drama behind the scenes, was there any of that on the set with the cast?

No, the cast was a delight to work with. They know their roles; they know what to do. They would come onto the set and they were good, sometimes a little casual, but good. And then came the day when we brought Ricardo [Montalban] on board. And he did this nine-minute master shot without a cut and he was fabulous. He really nailed it. I think we only had to do one take; it was that good. So, the next day Bill and Leonard, oh boy they were sharp! They had their lines learned; they were on their marks. It was like playing with a great tennis player and suddenly your game gets ratcheted up. It was very cute to see a little shift in the attitude in how they worked.

You were asked to stay on and produce more Star Trek films but declined. Do you regret that?

Yes. But I will be honest with you; I was burned out and I had been in battles the likes of which I was unaccustomed to fight. But I was gratified the work was progressing and it was coming out of something I was very proud of.

While we were in dubbing I was called up to the head of Paramount Television’s office and he said, “This is going to be good, we like what you have done, would you like to stay on and do more?” And I said I would like to think about it and asked, “What about Harve?” And his exact words were, “We want Harve doing television.” I went home and had a sleepless night was because I had to consider that even though Harve and I had come to loggerheads over a variety of things, deep within where I live I couldn’t bring myself to cut the legs off a guy who had given me the chance to produce a picture. Call it an acute attack of Judeo-Christian morality, but I couldn’t do it, and I turned it down. In retrospect, one of the two major blunders in my professional life.

Have you been keeping up with the Star Trek films in recent years and have any thoughts about the films produced by J.J. Abrams, or about the recent news that Noah Hawley has been tapped to write and direct a new film?

I can say this: J.J. Abrams and Noah Hawley are masterful storytellers. Each one has his own take on how to tell a story and what that story should be. Do I agree with everything? No. Would I have done it differently? Probably. But, from a studio perspective, these are accomplished guys.

I do think there has been a general sort of lack to step back and recapture the humanity aspect. A feel a lot of this stuff is a bit forced. Of course, they are made for a different time, these pictures are much later than mine. I don’t see at their core, the heart that we were able to put into Star Trek II.

I am a huge fan of Noah Hawley. I have never met the man, but I respect his work. I think he is a unique creative force. I will be very interested to see what he does. If I knew somebody who knew him I would say, “Let me take Noah to lunch, and let me share with him a couple of the things I learned about Star Trek.” I would love to talk to him about how we made the film that we did. I would even buy him lunch. I think he is a very special talent.

You are still active, can you talk about what you are working on these days?

I am working on some things. One thing I can say that looks very promising is a project on Rasputin. There are a number of other things in the works with some pretty substantial people.

Robert Sallin on the set of Star Trek II

The Wrath of Khan virtual screening on Saturday

Paramount is holding a “virtual screenings” of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on April 25th with CYA.LIVE. Join hosts Mark A. Altman and Daren Dochterman for the event which will allow viewers to watch and interact via text and video with other fans. There will also be a Q&A after the film. The screening cost $1.99 and tickets can be purchased at CYA.LIVE.

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KevinA Melbourne Australia

Fascinating!

Brian Middleton Jr.

Excellent! Thanks for this!

tom riker

great… i like all trek movies for various reasons (yes i can even enjoy V) but khan is my fave like it is with many others… montalban is amazing of course and it’s great to hear how “on” he was and upped everyone’s game. and i love how nimoy was done putting on the ears… and then came 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and TNG and 2009 and into darkness… never say never

Cmd.Bremmon

Lol Your a greater TOS fan than I am. I liked V as a kid… now not so much.
This is the evidence I have for Meyer being important, take his writing out of the equation and you ended up with Bennett producing a dud (though III worked for me!). They should have kept the Meyer/Bennett/Sallin gang together and maybe even put them to work on a Star Trek movie era TV show follow up post IV.

Tiger2

I agree with you, while not all the movies have not been great I have to say I enjoyed all the iterations of them although the TOS movies are still far and away the best ones.

And there will always be more movies. We don’t know if the Kelvin cast will live on or not but Star Trek itself will. I’m really hoping if the next film isn’t about the Kelvin cast they FINALLY take a chance and do something completely new with the movie franchise with new characters and settings like the TV universe has always done.

And I always thought of the irony that first movie was called The Motion Picture because they actually thought there may only be one. It’s odd they never really thought it would just be more from the start, but I guess it wasn’t the sequel fueled franchise world we live in today. Now movies can’t even get a green light unless there are possibility sequels down the line.

kmart

You guys delivered the interview I’ve wanted to read from this guy. He truly is one of the unsung heroes of TWOK, and I’m glad he mentioned his girl Deb’s contribution re: Meyer, which I’d read about in RETURN TO TOMORROW, I think. Considering the low opinion I have for TSFS storyline, the idea of going forward with Sallin and w/o Bennett may have actually been better (am not much of a fan of the Nimoy-directed films.)

Sallin had Jim Danforth budget the film for him, and that let him really calculate out the actual cost for doing the work, which may have led them to ILM, since they guaranteed their price per shot. Am still massively bummed they didn’t get Trumbull back, esp. since Trumbull underbid ILM by about 40%. That’s about the only point where I differ with Sallin on the making of the film, but the ILM connection is likely a studio-driven thing, since they had done RAIDERS with ILM and I think DRAGONSLAYER was a Disney/Paramount coproduction.

Don’t think I knew about Howard, but he might have pulled it off, though the thing is with TWOK, if you hadn’t had Meyer to do the instant script miracle, you wouldn’t have gotten it before the cameras in time, so maybe it was all serendipity.

Wonder if they ever considered repurposeing the Genesis torp as a 23rd century Barbershop pole?

Imagine, a Trek feature with Ron Howard. What might have been!

Interesting that at this point in his life Roddenberry was pretty much drowning in his own Kool-Aid.

ML31

As what kmart said, I like Ron’s work in general but would he have stuck his neck out on the problems with the script back then? Meyer did and volunteered to work at changing things. Had Ron got the job we could have ended up with a VERY different film. I’m curious how that might have played out but we ended up with something very special indeed. So I’m pleased with the result.

kmart

Howard has very little in the way of writing credits, even decades later. Not sure that GRAND THEFT AUTO would qualify him, as that is his sole screenplay credit, I think. Meyer at least had 7% and TIME AFTER TIME (in addition to INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS.)

Cmd.Bremmon

I wish they’d ask press these gents who obviously make fun entertaining and exciting Trek what they would do with the franchise. He would do Trek differently, but how? Why? More please!!!!

Cmd.Bremmon

Now that I have more time:
“The story is not about sci-fi or some obscure person with mystical powers, it is about human beings”

LOL The Picard writers did NOT get that memo. Quite frankly I feel 90s Roddenbery’s writer guide for TNG (i.e. why it was so horrid) was trying to erase the awesomeness that Meyer/Benett/Sallin put together.

Meyer/Benett/Sallin understood Trek should be relatable. They were more 60s Roddenbery than 90s Roddenbery to the point they nailed it better. I wish they had given Meyer/Benett/Sallin a mandate to not only do II but transition into a “next generation”.

I also wish they hadn’t split up the band on V (sorry Shat, I love you, but V was a wasted opportunity). Imagine if VI was V and then we got another original cast movie by Meyer.

See Peter David’s DC Comic series to see what could have been. Hell, they could have done a TOS TV series after the success of IV that transitioned into a good next gen (Saavik, etc). The movie era with today’s CGI would have been amazing. I found that the DC Comics of the time are just filled with great story lines.

Fascinating! Not to diminish what Nick and Harve did with TWOK, but IMO Sallin never received his proper due for helping save the franchise. Great interview.

So now there’s independent confirmation that Susan Sackett was the one who spilled the beans on Spock’s death. (Correct me if I’m wrong but Bob Justman’s history of Star Trek was the first time I’d seen that particular rumor in print.) In retrospect it makes sense; Gene didn’t care for the script and didn’t want Spock to die; the scoop was obviously leaked at his behest.

As for Gene “drowning in his own Kool-Aid”, well, he’d been doing that ever since Trek found its second life in syndication.

See my post from today (4/23). Contrary to popular (and not so popular) belief, I was not the one who leaked Spock’s death. Gene did, in one of his lectures, and possibly Harve did too, to stir up interest. I was only repeating what was already out there.

PaUl

Great interview & that picture of the Genesis device with Robert is stunning so much detail most we never got to see onscreen due to the bright light FX used.

Cmd.Bremmon

That is pretty cool!!

kmart

It IS kind of odd that the torpedo didn’t get a lingering closeup with mood music when Kirk & co. first find it in that mutant footlocker down in the Eden cave. In hundreds of viewings, it never occured to me before, but that was a serious missed opportunity, musically and visually. I can actually imagine a camera travelling close over its surface while some Jerry Goldsmith from TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING (when Paul Winfield — coincidence, in that film too — first see a Titan missile in its silo) is playing.

If anybody ever interviews Meyer or the film’s editor, it might be worth asking if there was additional coverage shot but not used — a creative miscue IMO, since the existence of this thing helps to power a lot of the film.

kmart

Never mind, editor died back in the 90s.

Dvorak

This was an insightful interview , thanks!

Antonio Defiant

The best? You mean the best for you. Is pathetic this aptempt to put TWOK as the best in the franchise in all webs and official things because is not. TMP or FC Will always be the best.

Rickpat Artstew

In before the war starts. I brought popcorn.

kmart

TWOK is the best movie-movie, as in a fun, only mildly problematic ride that seems to have some smarts at times, so for my money that makes it the best of the filn series; I rank it, TMP and TFF (despite the many warts on those two as well) as the good ones, and all the rest as ‘the lesser forms.’

I find it odd your go-tos are TMP (which certainly tried to deliver an epic experience with very mixed results, aiming perhaps too high) and FC, which to me aimed lower than almost any of the other TOS films, and still managed to bottom out a lot (I can honestly say that it wasn’t till the last 15 years or so that I was even able to watch FC straight through without getting up or fastforwarding, though the exterior shots of the E was usually very very nice.)

Cmd.Bremmon

I understand TMP.
TMP was my favorite film as a kid (ironically but now it’s all TWOK). TMP just screamed epic.
FC.. though, I kind of get the Borg and it had more action than the rest of TNG combined. That being said in my opinion it only makes sense when you think of the Borg ultimately using Picard as a double agent (and talk to him during the cube attach) to try to capture Data. Either they tell Picard where to attack or Picard’s a jerk and wanted to play hero at the cost of thousands of lives, starships and potentially Earth. Their real goal then is to engineer AI and eliminate the need for organics. Ironically Locutus accomplishes this in ST:Picard (after years of trying to get Starfleet to work on that tech even creating robots that act as slaves in the attempt).

Tiger2

FC is still my third favorite film of all time. I think I have watched that film the most after TWOK. TMP the complete opposite lol. It’s the least viewed film and to this day I don’t think I seen more than 2 or (maybe) 3 times in my life. Yes its a very ambitious and epic movie with a compelling story line, big sets and FX but it bores me to tears. Even Rod Roddenberry says he can’t watch that movie. Just for comparison Nemesis is literally my worst film and I still seen it about 8 times now (last rewatch the day before Picard started). Nearly all the Trek films are entertaining for me if nothing else, except TMP. A total borefest IMO.

But it is crazy how so many fans sees both these shows and films so differently. Well, except TWOK lol.

Cmd.Bremmon

I think when younger and you see those scenes of this big cloud full of lightning and balls shooting at the Earth disintegrating stuff you are actually horrified / amazed at the idea. I still get that a bit when they load the tactical screen on the bridge and you see the diagram of the energy bolts taking position over Earth and think it could destroy everything on the surface.. but that definitely fades with re-watches unlike TWOK.
Also I think I loved it because I watched it before The Changeling did the exact same story in like forty five minutes. After you watch that episode TMP just doesn’t come as special anymore (apart from the sets and that beautiful 1701).

navamske

“I watched it before The Changeling did the exact same story in like forty five minutes.”

Star Trek: Where Nomad Has Gone Before

kmart

I kept a very regular journal from 1978 up through 1983, and I guess I started softening my opinion of TMP by March of 1980 (at least five years earlier than I had remembered it happening) … there was an entry that read something like, ‘caught LIGHTS OF ZETAR again today … maybe TMP isn’t as bad as I thought.’

I think TWOK probably peaked for me in the 90s when I’d watch it and TFF on widescreen laserdisc all the time. And that is when TMP really started to fascinate me; the pace and lack of overt dynamics just make it the first and practically only TREK ‘procedural.’ I watch the theatrical version of TMP on blu- all the time now, often just 10-20 minute stretches, but probably 3 or 4 times a year straight through. It is almost like an immersive meditation (except the same zillion things wrong still irk me.)

John

Mmmmmmm no Antonio.

StarTrick

Indeed a great interview – the right questions, and Sallin comes of as a very intelligent and likeable guy.

Faze Ninja

Fascinating interview. Robert Sallin comes of as a very knowledgeable and likable guy.

Leonard Nimoy didn’t want to do it until he did it. We found Spock! The storyboards are really cool.

Gene “drowning in his own Kool-Aid”, love that line.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the empire strikes back of Star Trek. It is the best film of the film franchise.

Cmd.Bremmon

90s Prophet running from #metoo Gene basically wrote TNG to erase the Meyer/Benett/Sallin movie era (I think to erase his 60s self too) while giving them as much of a headache that they would walk away… and he used the universal success of Star Trek IV The Voyage Home to get the budget to do it.
This is the root of my dislike of TNG, it ended the best era in Trek with a writers guide designed to remove everything in ST:II TWOK that worked.
Meyer/Benett/Sallin should have gone off and wrote their own series, we needed way WAY more from these gents working together.

Merchant of Vulcan

A man who gets it!!! Hopefully whoever is in charge at Paramount is marking your words, for they are all spot on! The Great Bird pushed his utopian vision with a vengeance starting with the 1970s convention circuit and put the throttle on the floor in 1987. TOS was scarcely Utopian, the earliest reference to such a society introduced late in the final season. TOS and its’ successor series were night and day.

Cmd.Bremmon

Uh, I’d say TOS wasn’t utopian but optimistic – today’s humanity could and would succeed “out there” working together. What we don’t know, we are going to go out and learn. We don’t know everything and the future is hard but we are made for that task.
TNG then comes along and says “nope, sorry, today’s humanity is not up to the task and we need these perfect people who know everything, they don’t even need a Chief Engineer and want to talk feelings. The future is easy. All the aliens will see their glory, even the Q, an learn from them.”
The real wild card… THE MOTION PICTURE novelization. In that book he describes the “new humans” (almost exactly what TNG started off with) as being UNEQUIPPED AND INCAPABLE OF HANDLING THE HARDSHIPS OF THE FINAL FRONTIER. HE LITERALLY SAYS THEY BREAK DOWN BECAUSE IT’S SO DANGEROUS. Kirk appearently is a rockstar because he is an “old human”. The author… GENE RODDENBERY.
Somewhere between him writing the TMP novelization and TNG, he was appearently replaced (by aliens?!?). Or someone else wrote the TMP novelization and Gene did not even read it??? Or the transition from cool to Prophet Roddenbery came about in just five years… I can only guess anger at the success of Meyer/Benett/Sallin and that he wrote TNG out of spite.

TonyD

Very informative interview; I was never aware that Ron Howard was in the running to direct or that he was a big Trek fan. I wonder what kind of movie he would have put out. Maybe Paramount should seek him out today to see if he’d like to do a Trek movie.

I have to disagree with TWOK being the “best” Star Trek movie however. Statements like that are subjective and while it does a good job with the main characters, it also has some major plot points that have always bothered me. I also never cared for how Saavik was given such a prominent role that quickly leap-frogged over most of the established supporting cast.

ML31

Fascinating story.

I can totally buy that GR was unhappy with nearly everything on WoK, too.

Cmd.Bremmon

90s Roddenbery I think was unhappy.
60s Roddenbery I bet would have loved it.

NX01

Great interview! Thanks!

Danpaine

“I do think there has been a general sort of lack to step back and recapture the humanity aspect. I feel a lot of this stuff is a bit forced.”

Great quote.

Dennis C

Agreed.

Ashley

He should have multiplied his budget estimate by a factor of four!

Cmd.Bremmon

Lol I remember in the Making of the movies book I guess Paramount asked Harve Bennett “Can you make a movie for less than $#@$ $#@$ing million”
Harve I guess said something like “Where I am from, I’ll make you four movies for that price” and I guess he did. LOL

Tiger2

Yep, that line was in William Shatner’s Star Trek Movie Memoirs. Looks like we read the same book. ;)

It’s really a good book as well! A lot of great insight at the time.

kmart

I think that line is in just about every book on Trek movies, and an awful lot of old mag interviews, too.

Tiger2

Yeah, probably. It’s like the Nichelle Nichols meeting MLK story. It’s in every documentary, TV special, book or interview I have seen her in. ;)

David McDonald

Great article. Thanks. Is there an earlier article or something somewhere that describes what the original storyline/script that he describes as having problems? Just curious.

FASAfan

The ABC airing of TWOK from the late ‘80s (?) is THE best version of TWOK. The fairly recent Director’s Cut restores some, but not all, of that footage (mainly different takes of scenes).

Thorny

It was early 1985, IIRC.

Cmd.Bremmon

Scenes to keep taht I think make the movie more relatable and thus better are ironically mostly involve Scotty. I think they are important to recognize too that the Enterprise had a bunch of kids, makes it more forgivable when Kirk let’s the ship get caught by surprise (he thought the shields would go up way quicker).
Scotty: “Crazy to get to space”
Scotty: “He stayed at his post… while the others ran”
You really feel for those trainees getting it on their first mission. Makes you want to see those characters grow (and maybe end up the real next gen of Trek).

Bo-Katan

Now I want a Star Trek film directed by Ron Howard !

Tiger2

He actually did an amazing job with Solo, especially given the circumstances.

Danpaine

Agreed, Solo was an entertaining film. I’d love to see Howard tackle a Trek project. His films, for the most part, have a lot of heart.

Cmd.Bremmon

He did Apollo 13 right? What ENT should have tried to emulate as much as possible?

Tiger2

Wow, this was a fantastic interview!!! Thank you Trek movie. I don’t think I ever even heard of this guy until now! I’m sure I read his name before somewhere in the past but I never knew anything about him and that he was responsible for so much of the film. That Kirk entrance is iconic. It’s cool how it came out. And I had no idea he was responsible for the CGI Genesis idea. Funny, on Youtube a site there named recently named it as one of the worst CGI moments in Star Trek history, which is so ridiculous since it was literally one of the first ever done in Hollywood history…kids today!

But it’s amazing all these years later and I’m still learning something new about all these productions. All this might be old hat now to people here but most of it was new for me other than how Nimoy was convinced to come back.

kmart

To give you an idea of how Sallin aided the production: Meyer thought of the cool shot with the camera tracking in front of the torpedo as it gets set down and loaded. But the building people budgeted building the special custom camera rig in the thousands of dollars. Sallin looked at the set, asked how much it would cost if they just used a certain dolly (balloon? western? forget which) and just dropped it into the open part. The answer was something like $29.50 (going by memory – I think this is in MAKING OF ST 2 book if you have it.) Now that’s an effective line producer.

What’s REALLY strange about called the Genesis tape a bad effect is that it is supposed to be demo, not the real thing. So they weren’t going for photorealism (though I still think it looks pretty fantastic, at least up till when they pull way back at the end.)

Cmd.Bremmon

I think it works great since it is clear that Dr Marcus is presenting a simulation anyway.

Tiger2

He definitely sounded like a great producer. I think they needed someone like him on TMP too. ;)

Yes and I agree the Genesis scene is meant to be a demo, not a photo-realistic scene. And of course that was pointed out by many in the comments section. It’s so bizarre anyone would attack that scene as being ‘bad’ when it was trailblazing a new technology few people were really doing back then.

kmart

He would have lasted a week or two on TMP at most, because Paramount wasn’t listening to the actual pros they had on that. There were people complaining about what was going on from the very start of 1978, but it took a year for Paramount to realize how badly they were getting conned and to listen … at which point it was practically too late. Mike Minor was complaining about Abel long before his boss Joe Jennings was forced out by Abel, and that was months before shooting even got started. Every delivery date for the original company was missed, repeatedly. Some of that was blamed on the script changes, but geez, the script kept changing even 8 months after the end of principal photography, and yet Trumbull’s bunch still salvaged the mess.

If Sallin had been there AND had the clout, Abel would never have been hired; he’d have probably gone with Dykstra’s Apogee FX, most of them had worked on STAR WARS and were just coming off GALACTICA, and this was before they spent a year on ALTERED STATES, where all their stuff was dumped when that production dumped its original director and FX team.

Micheal Thompson

Very much this Tiger2

When II came out the graphics were wow! And the battle scenes

Great film and we got 4+1 more Tos films because of it.

Great he won the uniform battle which was crucial to the look of the film

Great read thank you TM

Tiger2

TWOK was the first film I remember watching in theater. It was a double feature with Raiders of the Lost Ark at the time (I feel so old just typing this sentence lol). On that basis alone it will always be a special film to me, Star Trek or not.

Cmd.Bremmon

Ha ha Now that’s a double feature!! Two awesome movies!!

Tony Siniscalco

Great Interview – Much Appreciated.

Eric B Haynes

Great interview I remember reading updates/rumors about WOK in Starlog magazine almost every month in 1981 and 1982. I believe Wrath of Khan originally had a different name. They also talked about the reduced budget, Roddenberry not being involved, and that Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett were taking over..stuff like this. Oh, I think I remember reading in late 1980/early 1981 that the sequel was cancelled, and then a short time later greenlit again. It was very touch and go for awhile. Man this interview brought back a lot of memories!

Cmd.Bremmon

Nicholas Meyer I believe actually wanted to call TWOK “The Undiscovered Country”. Ironically to refer to death so it was a great name, but probably wouldn’t have sold as well as “The Wrath of Kahn” lol He definitely liked that name though that we got it in VI.

navamske

I think it was originally going to be “The Revenge of Khan,” but there were rumors that the third Star Wars movie was going to be subtitled “Revenge of the Jedi” so the Star Trek people changed it and of course the Lucasfilm people changed their title too.

Cmd.Bremmon

You are right on the studio naming it “Revenge of Kahn”, I think they even had a couple posters(????) and it being changed due to Revenge of the Jedi (that was in the book). That being said Nick Meyer I believe wanted “The Undiscovered country” for TWOK but was totally overruled.

Donald G

It was STAR TREK II: THE VENGEANCE OF KHAN.

Locutus

Great interview. Interesting questions. I has never heard of him until I read this, which is unfortunate. Thank you for bringing his contributions to light.

Cmd.Bremmon

You know what I am dying to know now…. what was his take on bringing back Spock?
Was he with Meyer begging Harve Bennett not to bring back Spock or did he think Meyer was crazy (then.. and then now after seeing how TNG went).
As a Producer did he see Saavik, David Marcus and those cadets in TWOK as the future of Trek?

ML31

It was my understanding that Nimoy himself started to have 2nd thoughts during the filming of WoK. That it was his suggestion they do something to leave the door propped open so he could still have the option of returning to Spock. He was the one who came up with “Remember”. No one knew at that time what they might do with it. But it was figured generic enough that they would have options.

Cmd.Bremmon

I think Meyer wanted to get rid off that (isn’t that why he refused to work on III?) but as soon as Nimoy was back in Harve Bennett was like “we need Spock”. made them do it, and wrote III. Curious to see what the third party thought, was Robert Sallin the tie breaker? If so, does he still think he made the right choice?

While a nice interview he’s off base about how the Genesis Tape was made. “They ended up subcontracting that out and they would do the inputs during the day and at night they would link like 200 personal computers together to render it because they didn’t have the computing power in those days.” Um, *what” PCs in early 1982? Apple II’s? Atari 800s? The Commodore 64 hadn’t even launched.

Cmd.Bremmon

I was going to guess Apple since it was Pixar (then the Graphic Group) but that was like 3 years before Steve Jobs went over there. lol

kmart

Right as usual, Maurice. ILM used two ‘big’ VAX machines according to this article by one of the main guys on the show. It also mentions that a new gadget, called the Pixar (no s___!) speeded renders. http://alvyray.com/Papers/CG/StarTrekII_GenesisDemo.pdf

I think the subcontracting bit was Sallin not remembering that the ILM computer division was still just part of ILM, a part not actively on feature films yet, and had not become a separate entity. Sallin is cited in the article as being one of the people involved in the review process.

“Then the proverbial stuff hit the fan. It was leaked by Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, Susan Sackett. The furor it kicked up you cannot imagine.” Wrong. I did not leak it, as it had already been leaked by none other than Gene himself, and maybe even Harve Bennett. Knowing that, I found no problem in mentioning the demise of Spock, since this info was already out there. Just want to set the record straight!

kmart

Susan,
Perhaps Sallin was just repeating what Harve Bennett claimed. I’ve seen him mention in more than one interview during the 80s that a trusted woman in the office went to a con in England and told everyone, ‘they’re killing spock!’ So perhaps the question is, ‘when did the story first appear?’ and then from there, figure out who it originated from.

JoeTrekFan

Wow. I’m thoroughly surprised to read this interview. So, its Sallin that deserves a good share of the credit for STII’s success in a lot of ways. Curious that we have to wait 38 years or so to discover this information? I don’t recall interviews by others (Bennett and Meyer) acknowledging Sallin’s contribution to the extent as revealed above.

The Ron Howard consideration for director is also a surprising reveal. Again, I’m wondering why we’ve never heard a Ron Howard interview to have him speak of this, especially after doing that Star Wars spin off movie.

ILM’s selection for VFX, from what I recall, had a lot to do with how Paramount was happy with what they did on Raiders of the Lost Ark the year before. Then there is the association with the Star Wars films, which I think is one of the problems as there is some carry over to some of the look. Trumbull should’ve received the contract plain and simple. He not only underbid ILM, but saved Paramount from a major lawsuit and the first Star Trek movie had they missed that December 1979 deadline. I think they should’ve maintained and expanded on the Trumbull (& Co) look..fine detailed models.. 70mm photography. This is not in dispute as the first Star Trek is the only TOS film to receive an Academy VFX Award nomination until JJ’s reboot.

Sallin’s acknowledgement of the first film’s budget woes is nicely tempered. I’m tired of reading how blame is spread around (insert reason/name here) but many forget that the start up costs for the aborted TV movie/series is included in that $44M budget. We didn’t see all $44M on the screen for sure. Also, ST2 had the benefit of utilizing standing sets and some stock VFX.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s virtual screening and Q&A.

kmart

If you check RETURN TO TOMORROW and really study it, you will see that the costs absorbed from all the false starts prior to TMP don’t come to more than 5 or 7 mil, TOPS! And that includes all the building for phase 2 that was the basis for TMP, which is probably at least half of that amount, and all up on screen, even if under a coat of paint.

Sallin is interviewed in CINEFANTASTIQUE and THE MAKING OF ST 2, so there was plenty of stuff at the time the film came out, but little since. Probably just moved on and didn’t want to badrap Bennett.